Minnesota's Eagle Brook Church prides itself on staying at the leading edge of technology for its ever-evolving production and broadcast needs. In 2010, the thriving house of worship, which opened in late 2005 and accommodates over 2100 in stadium-style seating—retooled its overall technical infrastructure at its main Lino Lakes campus location, adding three DiGiCo SD8 consoles and DiGiRacks for FOH, monitors and video broadcast production. Flash-forward to the spring of 2011, and the audio team is at it again. Working closely with Audio Logic Systems, the latest upgrade set in motion swapped two of the SD8s at FoH and monitor world with one of DiGiCo's newest 96k/2 gig optics-capable SD10B broadcast console loaded with the DiGiCo Waves SoundGrid plug-in bundle. They also added three SDRacks, one dedicated to the SD10 and the other two distributed within the facility. In turn, the two SD8s and DiGiRacks were migrated to the Spring Lake Park and Woodbury facilities. The changes at the main Lino Lakes campus had a ripple effect throughout, allowing all the Eagle Brook engineers at each facility to mix on similar DiGiCo platforms.
Audio mix pro Adam Bufis was brought in to work as audio director, to transition and streamline the multiple facilities, to facilitate the newest gear integrations, and to provide a mix position for the broadcast hub at the main location. With a decade of touring experience working with major Christian artists from Casting Crowns to Lincoln Brewster, and Israel Houghton for the last several years, Bufis brought a savvy technical prowess and mixing expertise to the church. The choice of the broadcast console offered many great features for live sound and for Bufis, including 5.1 surround, fader backstop solo and more.
"Originally, the radar was out to get a newer or bigger desk at our main broadcast location," Bufis explained. "I'd mixed a ton on the SD7 and have a lot of experience on that and with DiGiCo, and really liked the added benefits available with the optical network. We started to look at what it would take to get an SD7 into our main campus as our needs were growing there. We also wanted to bump up to 96K, and I personally wanted to bring in the Waves plug-in package. So when the SD10 came out, it was almost a no-brainer just the cost-factor. With the SD8s, I was filling all 60 channels plus returning stuff with insert returns on groups, so to expand it out to a bigger channel count was almost a necessary move for us. With our ever-expanding band and orchestra, and all the loop/track/bass stuff, that starts adding up as does the input channels. Another big push for me was to get it all running on optical, using an RME MADI bridge for distribution. Before, we were running RME MADI signals to a bunch of different areas for recording and multitrack stuff. With the optical network, it just made the whole system a lot more functional and easy to use, versus flipping switches and changing routing on the MADI bridges. I can do it all basically at the desk now.
To accomplish his optical networking dream, Bufis was able to run an HMA fiber optics loop for backup redundancies and a total of 2 SD Racks, and 1 DiGiRack placed in various locations in the building—two near the stage and one in the broadcast studio—to supply the different audio feeds from each source. "The addition of the SDRacks, even at 48K took a step up! It had a much more clean and clear sound. I've always been a fan of the DiGiCo sound anyway, but it made a noticeable difference to us merely by just changing that. And then once we bumped up to 96K, it was even more of a noticeable difference with overall clarity and sonic performance."
At FOH on a typical weekend, Bufis estimates Eagle Brook is running 40-45 inputs total to handle its service flow, which he says is a 50/50 mix of music and message. "We rely heavily on the production aspect for our worship experience, using LEDs, video, lighting and of course audio. We have a full band comprised of drums, bass, a few guitars, usually 4 stereo keyboard channels-worth of inputs, sometimes a small horn section of 3-5 pieces and normally we're running anywhere from 5 to 8 background vocals and we incorporate a lot of loop-based stuff from Pro Tools. Typically, I'm running anywhere from 2-10 channels of anything from a percussive loop to a string loop to a vocal loop or whatever, and on our bigger weekends, we incorporate orchestral string sections, the biggest of which was 30-pieces, where I was running 101 analog inputs and 60 digital ones. I was able to lay the SD10 out so that I could change scenes and inputs, and to generally manage that many inputs on not a whole lot of faders for the live side of things."
As for outputs, the SD10 is accommodating quite a few in the sanctuary for its "robust" PA. "As our room seats just under 3000 in our main campus, I have a few different hangs with group outputs going to each zone: my main L/R, main outhangs, separate controls for front, outfills and subs, and we have a 70-volt distribution system throughout the building that handles mainly overhead-type speakers that we send a feed to. I also have a full split for our broadcast suite SD8, that is outputting all 24 groups of stereo outputs to 48 digital input devices from DVRs to digital recorders to our broadcast send. We use a Mako system that utilizes microwave technology to send point-to-point signals to our other campuses, which is how they receive our simulcast message in HD video and AES audio. We have a center HD screen in each location that comes down right to the stage floor with a 6' projected image of our pastor, and it surprises most people because it's pretty life-like. All of that is done in HD, from the filming to the projection to the broadcast, and it's pretty impressive. It gives the small church building a large church feel. All campuses have a live band and their own worship pastor, so outside of running our Lino Lakes simulcast sermon, it gives each of the satellite locations the opportunity to be unique."
When asked to single out some of his favorite features on their new console, Bufis couldn't help but rave about the SD10's expandable GPI and GPO connections, as well as the configurable Smart Key Macros. "The GPI/GPO is huge! I love using GPI triggers out of my console to fire lobby music to start, credits to roll, and for my CD to start and stop recording—all of that is all pre-programmed in my snapshots and then controlled through GPI triggers. That, on the setup side of things, has made rolling through show time very seamless, and has taken it almost from a two-man job to a one-man position at FOH, where I'm firing everything from hardware to music. Also, I love the Smart Keys on the SD10. I love identifying them with coloring and digital labeling. Having more than just the macro buttons, I've started getting into more advanced shows where I have 80-100 snapshots, and it's nice to lay those out on the Smart Keys to visually go to something quickly if I need to. I'd say those are the two biggest things I've found to love. However, I have to say I also really like the black color of the console. Black and gray are my two favorite colors, and the look of it is very stealthy."
It was important for Bufis to add the Waves SoundGrid bundle in order to streamline and simplify his outboard gear. "All of our outboard gear is now completely gone; we ripped out all our BSS and Drawmer outboard stuff and now I am basically rocking the Waves SoundGrid and the console at FOH. I love all the onboard offerings from DiGiCo, but the addition of the Waves package has given the console a new character. In particular, I use the Mercury bundle quite a bit, which gives me a plethora to pick through. I use a lot of the CLA compressors on vocals and drums, and the Fairchild compressors used on bass and guitar give it an amazing character. Basically, I don't use any onboard compression right now; most of it is done mainly through the CLA or the Fairchild's. I do use the SSL master bus on the output of the master. I've started to use some of the SSL channel strips for some of the EQ and on a few vocal channels, and I use another inserted SSL or CLA EQ. Again, sonic performance is key for me and I just love the sound of some of these compressors. I'm using about 12 of the 16 racks, racked on various drums, mainly rhythm section inputs, and I'm using the compressors on vocals. I'm using one Ultramaximizer, usually on my outputs, as well as for broadcasting, so it has a more mastered sound going out to our campuses." There are lots of things to access in my toolbox artistically.
At monitor world, he also swapped out their in-ear monitoring system. "Before we were using an Aviom system for a segment of the in-ears as we have a split of mixed ears as well as personal mixers in use. Stepping up to the new Roland M48 mixers, they have an SMADI device, which takes a MADI signal and converts it to their REAC system, allowing me to pipe a MADI signal from the console to feed to the Roland units. That too, was a pretty night-and-day upgrade for us. It has great functionality and really expanded what we do by allowing me to assign each mixer its own set of channel counts. Before, with the Aviom system, you only got a generic 16 channels to patch to. Now, with the Roland, you can patch everybody's mixer separate from each other. It gives you a whole lot of flexibility with band members wanting specific things on those mixers."
Bufis is running a Pro Tools rig on the FOH console, routed off a MADI connection from the SDRack and uses the GPI/GPOs to trigger the start and stop of those session files within Pro Tools. This was key in order to streamline both FOH and monitor functions into one console. The use of Smart Key Macros was key in managing monitor outputs. "The snapshots there are pretty robust and using the macros to lay those out functionally and color-code them is huge, as is the ability to rack more than two racks. We quickly grew out of just having two racks into three, and now even four and five MADI devices. So with the SD10, we can have a couple of optical racks and MADI racks needed in both those positions."
With services on both weekend days, the audio team has built in time on Sunday morning to do a recap of previous productions. This playback is a way for everyone, including the band, to take a disconnected look and listen to the overall production experience and to share feedback on what works and what needs improvement. "We're getting amazing feedback from them on how the whole system is performing, from the sonic quality to the mix. I would say, from musicians to pastors alike, the addition of the SD10s, SD Racks and optics, has definitely been an improvement and noticed by all, which is amazing as many of us come from a secular and Christian touring background and bring more of a show-type mentality to how things are done here. We like the term, â€˜go big or go home.' We try to stay relevant and like keep an eye out on what other houses of worship within the US are doing and I think in comparison, we fare quite high. All of us hold to a pretty high production value and standard and we're pretty progressive on stage and set design, too. We're constantly adding gear to stay on top of the latest technology. For us, the addition of the newest DiGiCo console was such a great thing. When I look at a console, the biggest thing for me is the sound quality. I can kind of get around hard-to-function desks or ones that may not be as intuitive if the sound quality is there. What I love about the SD10 is it has it all: a massively huge sonic quality and an easy to use, intuitive, fully functional user interface. And that for me, hands-down, is why I think it's the best for us as a facility and for me as a mix engineer."